Oregonians facing smoky skies due to wildfires went looking this weekend for inexpensive ways to remove harmful smoke and pollutants that had crept inside their homes.
Many returned empty-handed. Home Depot had a run on its air purifiers and shelves in many smoke-laden areas still needed to be restocked Monday.
Smoky air, which can travel miles from a fire, is expected to linger in Oregon and Southwest Washington through at least Thursday, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
But don’t worry.
The Oregon Health Authority, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other experts recommend these DIY ways to improve indoor air now:
Make sure all windows and doors are shut. Use weather sealing or even masking tape to cover gaps. Place damp towels under doors or in other crevices where polluted air might leak in.
Stay as long as you can in a room with the fewest windows and no fireplace or ventilation ducts that connect to the outside, and keep an air purifier running constantly here, says Consumer Reports.
Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution, like smoking, burning candles and using a gas stove, or that stir up dust already inside your home. Limit vacuuming unless your vacuum has a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
Harry Vanderpool of Salem, who worked in Industrial automation, says when it’s smoky outside, don’t run any device that draws in smoky air from outside, like a clothes dryer – “Hang up clothes to dry,” he says.
Lakin Norton of Pyramid Heating + Cooling in Portland thinks running an exhaust fan for a shower “is fine, but you do not want to run it in excess.”
She says some people think a fan will exhaust smoky air, but it actually will cause negative pressure in the house, which means the house will try to pull air in from wherever it can, such as cracks in windows, doors or floors.
Vanderpool doesn’t turn on range hoods fans or bathroom exhaust fans when there are wildfires nearby because he says “the air is too dry already. Steamy air from a shower can help.”
“You can also boil a pot of water on the stove or have a humidifier going to help with the smoke,” Norton adds. “Many people have been putting essential oils in for the scent but I would advise against that as they further pollute the air and release VOCs” or volatile organic compounds.
Check your heating filters daily due to the amount of wildfire smoke. You will need to change or clean them more often than the recommended two or three times a year. Once a filter is full, it no longer traps particulates, says Consumer Reports.
Make sure you have the right size filter to ensure that as many particulates as possible are being filtered and they are not going around the filter. Have backup filters ready.
Health experts and others recommend using only HEPA filters, which use a fan to force air through a fine mesh to trap particles in indoor heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems.
If you have a central heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, set the fan to “on,” rather than “auto” to make sure the fan is constantly circulating and filtering air. HVAC systems do not pull air from outside.
If you have a fresh air system, however, turn it off until the smoke is cleared since it will draw in polluted air from outside. Turn it back on after the smoke has subsided.
You can create an air purifying filter by covering the front of a box fan with a HEPA furnace filter or one rated MERV-13 or higher. For safety, turn the fan off if you leave the house. Here are instructions to make a DIY air filter.
No air cleaner or filter will eliminate all air pollutants. But air purifiers, properly fitted with HEPA filters, can reduce particle concentrations by as much as 85 percent, according to the EPA.
If you want to get rid of the smoke smell, you’ll want an air purifier that has a carbon filter to absorb odors, says Consumer Reports.
Buy a portable air cleaner that has a clean air delivery rate (CADR) large enough for the size of the room or area where you will use it.
Norton of Pyramid Heating + Cooling says the Air Scrubber air purifier will help with smoke smell and overall air quality. She stocks units for conventional, forced-air systems and ductless mini split systems as well as a pocket-size unit to take when you travel in a car or to a hotel room.
Pyramid Heating + Cooling has all three types of Air Scrubbers in stock and offers contact-free phone and video consultations, Text the Expert services at 831-346-5955 and free deliveries.